Thursday, August 12, 2010

Gorman's "Drift down" theory and Good Enough

I was reading an article and came across the "drift down" theory which goes something like this:

Librarians shouldn't do a job that a paraprofessional can do. Paraprofessionals shouldn't do a job that a student can do. No person should do a job that a machine can do.

I was curious about the origins of this "drift down" theory, so I tracked it back to Michael Gorman. Apparently he debuted it in 1982 in a book chapter entitled "A good heart and an organized mind."

Consider for a moment how terror-inducing this is for modern-day Technical Services librarians and then consider how scary it must've been in 1982. Moreover, think about how forward-thinking that must've been.

It seems like everyone these days is preaching how Technical Services Units need to shape up, slim down, and streamline as much as possible. This time of turmoil is a perfect place for the "Drift down" theory to take hold, right? The best way to streamline your bulky Technical Services Unit is to examine everyone's daily tasks and workflows and see where projects and processes can be whittled down and passed on to someone further down the line to do.

In some ways, I am totally on board with this. Why do the costly double checking of reports when you rarely find errors?

There's part of me too, though, that worries that this zeal for streamlining our workflows and processes has the potential to be costly for users.

I am a big fan of Good Enough. I am a fan of considering what else you could be doing with the time you spend making that catalog record 'just so,' when very few people will notice the work you did. I am a fan of uncovering hidden collections and of doing special projects.

But I'm also in favor of not cutting corners when the trade off between staff time saved and value for the end user is too large. Sometimes it makes sense to have a Librarian do what a machine could could do.

The point is, when you're making decisions to streamline your workflows, slash with a pencil and not a red pen. And keep your users at the center of all of these cost-saving and time-saving measures.

Be proactive. Be visible. Be awesome.

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